On the Eve of Black April, This Is How We Will Resist The War On Welfare

Have a good holiday, be assured the WOW Campaign will fight on. We are not just a petition, the petition is a tool, a key in a lock that opens the way to challenge the very seat of power in the UK. Let us tell you about our larger strategy:-

Phase One: Gain 100,000 signatures to give our demands democratic legitimacy in seeking parliamentary redress.

Phase Two: With a caucus of supportive MP's gain as much as possible in the democratic & parliamentary process to stop the human rights abuses against us and restore our health and social security systems. Including debate, free votes, Cumulative Impact Assessment and independent inquiry.

Phase Three: Where parliament and inquiries fail us we will pursue justice through the courts both national and international for the human rights abuse perpetrated by the UK government and its associated corporate allies.

You can help by getting everyone possible you can to sign the petition, we need 100,000 signatures by December 12th 2013 http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154

We also want as many people to volunteer to intensify the campaign, in social media, general media, charity connections, union ties, civil society links, newsletters. email, lists and websites.

Failure is not an option because many thousands of lives are at stake. There have been too many deaths already.

We shall improvise, adapt and overcome.

When the government came and destroyed the lives of sick and disabled people, carers and families what did you do?

If you are reading this, you are the resistance.

Join Us



Govt doesn’t want to know what Welfare Reform will do to people

Guest Post by @latentexistence

WOW Petition – that’s a petition to stop the War On Welfare – calls for the DWP to carry out a cumulative impact assessment on all the welfare reforms together. It is obvious to most people that the impact of cutting many benefits all at once is more damaging than cutting just one. But the government claim that it is just too difficult to do a cumulative impact assessment, that the changes are too complicated. In reply to the petition (a reply that was long overdue, the petition having doubled the necessary 10,000 signatures to merit one) the government said:
“Cumulative impact analysis is not being withheld – it is very difficult to do accurately and external organisations have not produced this either. The Government is limited in what cumulative analysis is possible because of the complexity of the modelling required and the amount of detailed information on individuals and families that is required to estimate the interactions of a number of different policy changes.”
It is not that difficult though, and certainly within the means of a government department when millions of people will be negatively affected. To prove the point think tank Demos have had a go at it themselves. They estimate that the total loss over five years will be £28.3bn. Let me spell that out: Twenty-eight billion pounds. That is not – as my MP told me – the vulnerable being protected. That is the vulnerable being mugged. Writing in The Guardian, report author Claudia Wood said:
At one end of the cumulative impact scale, 88,000 disabled people currently claiming employment support allowance (ESA) will feel a double whammy of a 1% cap on uprating and a 12-month eligibility limit. At the other end of the scale, at least 1,000 disabled people (possibly up to 5,000) will face six separate cuts to their benefits income. By the time the next round of cuts are due in four years, they will be £23,300 worse off per person. In between these two groups are about 120,000 disabled people facing a triple cut, and 99,000 a quadruple cut. These combinations represent at the very least a loss of £6,309 per person by 2017. The worst loss of £23,461 per person by 2017 will be experienced by those unfortunate enough to lose their eligibility for disability living allowance and ESA, and who are reliant on other benefits that will only increase by 1% because of the rating cap or by the consumer prices index (CPI) instead of inflation.
Wood points out that these figures are an underestimate, cuts to child benefit, the independent living fund, social fund or council tax credit being just a few other factors. Underestimate this may be, but it seems that the DWP are refusing to calculate even the minimum impact because they can’t work out what the maximum impact is. We don’t need to work out the worst case to be able to see that even the best case is not good.

It doesn’t really matter though, because the government are just making excuses. The fact is that they don’t want to know what the impact will be because if they knew then they would have no excuse for continuing with these savage cuts. It’s actually worse than that, because they must know, but they don’t want to be seen to know. As we saw last week, government ministers don’t actually want to talk to the people affected, making bizarre excuses to get out of talking to Spartacus. They don’t want to hear anything that would contradict their rhetoric.

 These cuts don’t make economic sense either, even when you view them for what they are rather than “reform” aimed at helping anyone. Cutting DLA will leave people stranded at home where their health will deteriorate and lead to higher costs to the NHS. Cutting the Independent Living Fund will institutionalise people, sending them back to expensive care homes and preventing them from living and working alongside the rest of society. Cutting money that is spent by disabled people on care and travel will damage the car industry and cut jobs for carers. Welfare isn’t money that disappears, it is money that is ploughed straight back into the economy and its loss will be noticed. Although possibly not by George Osborne.

 The government are sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “La la la I can’t hear you” when it comes to welfare reform. Sign WOWpetition to tell them that we know they can hear us and we’re on to them and we won’t stand for it.

Demos – Destination Unknown: April 2013
The Guardian – Claudia Wood: The government has a duty to assess the impact of its benefit cuts
The Guardian - Welfare cuts will cost disabled people £28bn over five years


The Dog Ate the DWP's Homework: Unhelpful response to the #WOWpetition

Guest Post from Funky Mango's Musings by Margo Milne @MargoJMilne

 I don't know if you're already aware of the WOW petition. It was started a little over 3 months ago by comedian Francesca Martinez, and is well on target to achieve 100,000 signatures by its closing date. That means it would considered for debate in the House of Commons.

[Download this poster and more at wowpetition.com/downloads/]

WOW stands for War on Welfare. Because frankly, that's how it does feel. Like this soulless government has declared war on those of us forced to claim welfare benefits.

Let's say you're on Disability Living Allowance, and when that gets changed over to Personal Indepencence Payment you lose out. Well OK, that's just one thing (apart from the blue badge, and Motability car, and disabled railcard, and so on that it passported it you to). Maybe you can manage without the DLA. Maybe.

But you're also on contributory Employment and Support Allowance, and you've been on it nearly a year. So that's about to stop.

And that's before we get anywhere near the changes to Council Tax Benefit, and to Housing Benefit (the Bedroom Tax).

Tens of thousands of sick disabled people are about to go under financially. And this government just doesn't give a damn. Oh, they always have a soundbite:
There's a lot of misleading stories about the impact of our welfare reforms on disabled people, which could lead to unnecessary scaremongering. Our reforms will make sure the billions we spend every year give more targeted support and better reflect today's understanding of disability. Hundreds of thousands of disabled adults and children will actually receive more support than now with the combined effect of benefit changes under universal credit.
Targeted. Some people receiving more support than now. Well, as someone pointed out to me today (thanks Eggy!) all the NHS funds don't get allocated to intensive care: support is required at all levels of need.

So, returning to the WOW petition, what it asks for (among some other things) is a cumulative impact assessment, not looking at the effect of each benefit "reform" (*spit*) separately, but how people will be affected in real life. Real people are complicated. Lots of us claim more than one benefit (partly because the system's so complex!)

When a government e-petition gets 10,000 signatures, the department responsible for it gives a reply. It's taken a while for the WOW petition's reply to turn up: I only just noticed it, and the petition has over 27,500 signatures.

To summarise the reply, it seems to be:
  • We're not avoiding you.
  • This is hard.
  • The policies haven't all been decided yet.
  • There are impact assessments for individual benefits or for all tax, benefit and expenditure changes across households, but nobody's ever done what you're asking for, which is in between.
  • Did we mention this is hard?
My reply to that would be, with the greatest possible respect (and as civil servants they would know what an insult that is!) pop down to Ryman's, buy a new scientific calculator and get on with it. These are people's lives you're messing around with (at the command of your political masters), and there is a clear case for a cumulative impact assessment to be done.

If you haven't already signed the WOW petition, would you take a look and consider signing it? The more signatures on the petition, the more pressure sympathetic MPs like Michael Meacher can put on the DWP on our behalf.


Edit: I'm all for avoiding unnecessary government expenditure, so I'm sure it would be fine for the DWP to use this cumulative impact assessment, which Scope and Demos have just done. It calculates that those disabled people most severely affected by the cuts will lose £4,600 each year from what are already low incomes. As Richard Hawkes the chief executive of Scope says:
At the moment there’s no place for disabled people in the Chancellor’s aspiration nation.
Sadly, that seems to be very true


The reality of Discretionary Housing Payments & Bedroom Tax

From Ian S @cactusjack01 who lives in a Labour controlled council area-
"Following your claim received for the above, I am pleased to advise that an award of Discretionary Housing Payment has been made. The award is as follows:-
Discretionary Housing Payment (Rent)
From 01 Apr 2013 to 02 Jul 2013 an amount of £13.32 per week.
This award will be paid with your Housing Benefit payments.
Please be aware that payments from the discretionary housing fund are designed as a short term solution for applicants who are suffering financial hardship. Payments are not designed to enable applicants to remain in accommodation that they are unable to afford on the normal levels of housing benefit.
During the period of the award you should consider seeking cheaper alternative accommodation, or review your income and expenditure to enable you to afford your current accommodation without long term assistance from the fund.
If you make a further request for a payment from the fund at the end of the current award period the Benefit Service will consider what steps you have taken to help yourself financially or in seeking alternative accommodation during the period of the award.  If you have not sought to reduce your outgoings or looked into moving to cheaper accommodation this will affect the outcome of a further payment request.
Payments from the fund are cash limited, this means that once the fund is exhausted no further payments can be made.  Because of this you should not become reliant on payments as a long term solution to your housing and/or financial difficulties."
WOW's own Wayne Blackburn talked on the BBC about the reality of the Bedroom Tax & DHP too, that it really means either going hungry or moving from a house they have adapted for disabilities to an unsuitable and uncertain place. It will mean huge stress and physical pain, risk of homelessness and severe negative impacts upon health.
Wayne Blackburn and his wife live in a small, social housing bungalow in Nelson, Lancashire. Mr Blackburn suffers from conditions which severely limit his mobility and leave him in constant pain. Although their house is classified as a two bedroom property, the second bedroom is principally used to store mobility aids. The Blackburns stand to lose about £12 per week as a result of the benefit changes and Wayne says he fears whether they will be able to make ends meet.


WOW's Francesca Martinez on Cuts and Austerity at the People's Assembly Launch

Francesca Martinez speaking at the launch of the People's Assembly.


Caroline Lucas MP - journalist Owen Jones - comedian Mark Steel - Labour’s Katy Clark MP – comedian and disabled activist Francesca Martinez – Steve Turner (Unite) - Zita Holbourne (Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts).
The People’s Assembly – a new initiative backed by major trade unions such as Unite, Unison, NUT, PCS, the Green Party, Labour MPs, Coalition of Resistance and campaigning groups – hosted a press conference on Tuesday 26th March at Unite’s head office.
The People’s Assembly will be holding a 3,500-strong rally at Westminster Central Hall, 22nd June 2013, as well as meetings and rallies across the country. 
This new movement will be pushing the arguments against austerity currently missing from British politics, and fighting for all those people currently being hit by Government policies: whether low-paid workers, disabled people, unemployed people, the young, women, BME people and others.

Purple Day: Raising Awareness

I'm a female in my thirties and I’m a carer for an adult family member who has had Epilepsy for many years. Speaking to others over the years it seems not many people actually understand Epilepsy other than the name and the ‘shaking’, not the before, during, and after effects that a person with Epilepsy goes through. There are lots of fantastic organisations out there that are doing so much, but I think there is still a lack of public understanding/education about this common neurological disorder.

I began my Epilepsy Twitter account (with tutorial help from my neice/nephew) to learn from others and to help raise awareness at the same time, as well as supporting others by retweeting, as it’s nice to see on Twitter lots of other active accounts/groups/pages all over the world sharing tweets to help get the information regarding Epilepsy ‘out there’.  I’m glad I started my Twitter account just before worldwide Epilepsy awareness ‘Purple Day’, as this is the best time to raise the awareness . . . . . . Happy Purple Day everyone.

Purple Day: Epilepsy, Out of the blue

By Sarah Carson   @Sazzle262    Sazzle's blog

I was diagnosed with Epilepsy at 8 years old. I had no warning whatsoever and the seizures came out of the blue. One Sunday morning out of the blue my family had to witness me suffering a cluster of grand mal seizures that lasted 2 minutes per seizure. Unfortunately I suffered memory loss and remember the last comment before going into the seizure and the first memories of me coming out of one. As a result of having six seizures at one go I had paralysis down my left hand side that lasted approx 24 hours and was in hospital for a couple of weeks. 

Whilst in hospital medical practitioners ran tests on me; those included an EEG and a brain scan that revealed that I had borderline Epilepsy with a build-up of electricity on the left lobe of my brain. After numerous conversations with my family and neurologist I was told that Anti Epileptic drugs would be the way forward. I was advised that I could possibly grow out of my condition. 

The overwhelming sense of disappointment when I was diagnosed manifested into constant worry. It got to the point where I hid behind my condition till I went to Therapy a couple of years ago. People don't fully appreciate the concerns you have when you suffer from Epilepsy. Basic tasks such as making a cup of tea, ironing, and bathing alone cannot be done unaccompanied. As I have no warning signs there is always the possibility that should a shaking episode/fit occur then the end result could be disastrous. 

The first medication I was put on was Epilim at a low dosage of approx 200mg. This was the only medication I would remain on till I was 14 and came off medication entirely. My seizures were sporadic and with no warning I was on guard regularly. My confidence was the worst effected as I was unaware as to when and where a seizure would occur. The fear inside of me was overwhelming and I felt that no one fully understood me. My worry was that all my family and friends would treat me differently.

Fortunately my family have given me their undying support and have provided me with the stability I needed and encouraged me to do socialise as normal with children of my own age however to ensure that I was careful and took my medication regularly. When I was 17 years old my seizures returned frequently till I was 21 and remained till I was 23 years old. Like the previous pattern no warning signs were given, the medication however was altered and I went onto 200mg of Lamotrigine and 3000mg of Keppra. Since January 2009 I have been seizure free for just over four years however have remained on 1500mg of Keppra only. 

As a result of my Epilepsy I questioned my own abilities and worried constantly about my condition as I was not only worrying about my seizures however had the stress of coping with shaking episodes that my consultants believed could have started as a result of my increase in medication. 

After dealing with my Epilepsy for over 16 years I consulted neurology and was given the opportunity to trial Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) that changed my entire thought process. CBT is something I would recommend to all on the basis they commit to the services offered. Slowly but surely I am in the process of getting better and are now in a position to understand my condition fully. 

I have been given the opportunity to seek additional advice through support networks and since creating my blog in January 2012 to raise awareness on Twitter I have had the pleasure of liaising with people like me who experience similar issues. 

Epilepsy is a condition that in my case wasn't hereditary. It was something that I personally believe I was born with however didn't surface till I was a small child. Doctors believe that the cause of my Epilepsy could be stress therefore I try my utmost to not put myself in stressful situations and try to maintain a positive outlook at all times. As hard as it may be channelling your frustration into exercise and hobbies is the best stress reliever and by extension can have a feeling towards your condition. 

My one word of encouragement is to focus on you and take one step as it comes. Never feel like you're alone as there is always someone to help. x


The “Bedroom Tax” Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen…

By Wayne Blackburn Crazy Blade

“Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members — the last, the least, the littlest.”
Cardinal Roger Mahony
In a little over two months time, at the beginning of April 2013, the Coalition’s next phase of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 will kick in for thousands of social housing tenants like myself.  The under occupation tax, or the “Bedroom Tax” as it’s more widely known, will mean that those “under-occupying” a property will have to contribute a percentage of the rent from an already stretched budget - in other words, if you have, or could have by their definitions, a “spare” bedroom in your house then you will be expected to pay towards your Housing Benefit.
This will mean that social housing tenants on Housing Benefits, families on extremely tight budgets already, will have to pay 14% of eligible rent for one extra bedroom and 25% for two extra bedrooms.
Estimates believe that around 600,000 families will be affected by this change when it is implemented.
Lord Freud, the Coalition’s Welfare Minister and the man brought in to slash the Social Security bill, states that they are “putting the social sector on the same basis as benefit recipients in the private sector”.  Freud - who sparked fury this week with his comments on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC Radio 5 Live - owns an 8 bedroom country mansion as well as a £1.9million London townhouse.
Punishing The Worst Off… Again.
There can be little doubt that the Bedroom Tax, targeted at some of the least well off families in Britain, will have a profound effect on those who are already struggling under the austerity measures of this cruel and unwavering Coalition government.
Take my own situation, for example.  As a disabled man with severe mobility problems, I live in a small two bedroom Housing Association bungalow.  This is on no way a mansion, far from it.  It’s a small bungalow, with a living room, kitchen, adapted bathroom and one modestly sized bedroom and one small bedroom.  Myself and my wife do not have an abundance of furniture - indeed when we moved into here we had to get rid of a lot of things as they simply would not fit here.
The “spare” bedroom, as these changes will class it, is used to hold my wheelchair and other mobility and household aids I need for everyday life, as well as a pull out bed for when I have a particularly bad night with the pain I endure so as to try and not disturb my already struggling wife.
I’m sure you would agree that it’s hardly a “spare” bedroom, but moving from it is simply not an option as the space is absolutely needed.
I’ve already been contacted by my Housing Association - who have opposed this change from day one and campaigned heavily against it - to tell me that I will be affected from April, and I will probably be looking at around £10 per week that I will need to pay towards my rent.  To many I’m sure this sounds like a tiny amount, but it is a big chunk of an already very stretched budget.
Housing charities believe that as many as 95,000 people will not be able to afford this change.
It is absolutely disgraceful that the least well off are being hammered in this way by the Coalition government.  The Liberal Democrats in particular, who states an “end to poverty” as one of their core principles, shoulder a huge amount of blame for standing by and allowing this, and many of the despicable cuts, to happen to those with the least.
Those who didn’t cause the financial downturn or the Banking crisis, and yet are paying for it every single day
Lord Freud speaking with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio 5 Live - http://audioboo.fm/boos/1155413#t=1m27s
National Housing Federation - Bedroom Tax - http://www.housing.org.uk/policy/welfare_reform/bedroom_tax.aspx


A constituency meeting with my MP

I have always believed that in order to convince people you have to be inclusive, or as inclusive as possible. I have taken that approach to work and I try to bring it to campaigning. My MP is Theresa May and whilst I do not believe I will persuade her to vote against Tory Party policy I do believe that there is a small chance (OK very small chance) that something I say may in someway influence policy.

I saw her last Friday and before I saw her I sent her this e-mail (below) detailing the issue I wished to draw to her attention.

Each appointment is only 15 minutes so we didn't cover everything but she undertook to respond to my letter in full.

We did discuss some aspects: She didn't accept or deny that Esther McVey had lied but was going to look into it; I asked her how a moral person such as her could go into the lobbies to support individual elements of the Welfare Reform Bill when it is obvious from the DWP's response to the WOW petition that they have no idea of the cumulative, or even the combined, effect the governments policies are having on sick, disabled, vulnerable and working class people - she undertook to read the DWP's response to the WOWpetition and Pat's Petition; I pointed out that using their language I am a "striver" so asked her why a disabled "striver" was unable to find and keep a job in her "strivers" Britain (I am not seeking to differentiate myself from other disabled/ sick people here - in my opinion people with impairments are strivers just by getting on with life!). She would look into that!

My case is my case. I am different from everyone else. We all have stories. Doesn't matter who they are - go and tell your MP your story. Please. If you talk to them they know we're here!!

To the Right Honorable Theresa May MP,

Dear Theresa,

Before our Constituency Meeting on Friday 22nd March at 5pm I want to outline the issues I wish to discuss with you. They are as follows:

1. I am concerned about how easy it is for your government to announce facts or policies that could be interpreted as deliberately lying. Examples are :
  • Esther McVey announcing the Govt follows the Social model of disability in her reponse to e-petition 20968 "Pat's Petition" when Lord Freud stated in Hansard (17th Jan 2012 Column 498)  that the welfare reform bill is based on the BioPsychoSocial model of disability - does she not realise they are different? Is she mistaken or lying?
  • Before the Last Election you personally promoted "A Contract for Equality". Perhaps you might be able to give me a detailed review of how many of your aspirational policies contained within this document have been implemented and how many ignored.  I believe you "promised" to preserve DLA as a cash benefit on Page 11 of that document. Do you believe you have done so? 
  • I know it is in vogue to blame Labour for the countries economic woes but I personally believe it stretches back to the Big Bang in 1986 and is primarily the fault of bankers and Hedge Fund managers compounded by poor regulation of the Financial Services by both Conservative and Labour Government's. I would be happy to debate this with you?
  • David Cameron claimed in Parliament on the 13th March 2013 that there have been 1m new Private sector jobs created since the General Election. Can you please let me know the source for that claim please?
2/ I am concerned about how you can claim to be fair to disabled people and reward "strivers". I was disabled in 1991 and despite medical opinion being I should not try to work again I did. My eccentricities caused by my disabilities meant that I reached a glass ceiling in the UK so I went overseas to Abu Dhabi to progress and was CFO of a billion dollar business. When I returned from "striving" (the Abu Dhabi government Racially discriminated against me and the other European ex-pats by implementing a policy to replace us with Local Arab staff)  I have been unable to find a job with no help from Govt and despite paying National INSURANCE for 25 years working overseas for 2 years wiped my eligibility and I am deemed not to have contributed! How is that fair?

3/ I was responsible at age 24 and was in a company pension scheme. When BG finally decided that I was unfit to work they pensioned me off on an ill-health pension. It is a small pension but stops me getting any income based benefits. It is a pension. If it stops me getting benefits why can older people receive large pensions and still get state benefits. That suggests age and disability discrimination to me? How is that fair. I was responsible when younger but am not allowed to benefit from what I presume is a characteristic you would encourage?

4/ When I was disabled there were no Insurance policies widely marketed to protect me in the event of such an incident. National INSURANCE benefits have since been scaled back and I have been cut adrift. Why are there no transitionary arrangements to make the changes fair to people like me? After my accident in 1991 I was refused access to any Insurance policies marketed subsequently due to my pre-existing condition. How is this fair? Now you've dismantled the Welfare Safety Net what help do I get?

5/ The tax system gives benefits to certain types of disability; i.e. Blind Persons Allowance. Why do my disabilities not count? Yet again, invisible disabilities do not seem to be recognised - DLA, PIP, ESA etc.

6/ I am aware that Welfare Reform started under New Labour. You are aware that I resigned my Labour Party Membership over it. However, purely as an example are you aware that one Remploy worker has killed himself over the effect of your Governments' Policy on disabled people and I believe this is but the tip of the iceberg. The WOWpetition will be at Amnesty International's AGM having put forward a motion alleging Human Rights Abuses against disabled people and I personally have debated similarities between what your government is doing and Germany in the 1930's with Tim Farron on Twitter. You have not even allowed disabled people to choose who represents them and imposed Liz Sayce on us. It is believed by many knowledgeable people that the policies of your Government are in breach of their Human Rights Obligations. History will judge this Government. It will even judge the amazing decision of an Oxford magistrate to find a protester guilty of causing harassment, alarm and distress for stating that Cameron has Blood on his hands. Have the ConDem's banned "fair comment" in this country. History will judge you.

7/ I am currently not signed on the dole as there is a major disincentive to do so. I would be put in the situation of endless interviews with no hope of a job and the burden of failure hanging around my neck, no tangible help from Government/ Jobcentre, no benefit payments because I get a small ill health pension with the possibility of being forced to do Workfare slave-labour for no payment. I thought work was supposed to pay? 

8/ Other minority groups work differently to the way it was accepted you should work and laws have been brought in to protect them. I have not lost jobs because I can't do them. I have lost jobs because I am different. Why do I get no protection? Why do I get no hope? The last reasonable suggestion from the DWP was to apply for a job at LOCOG. As you are aware, LOCOG admitted at Tribunal that they failed to make reasonable adjustments for my interview with no consequences.

9/ Do you have any comment on Scope announcing yesterday following the budget that there is no place for the disabled in the chancellors aspiration society?

10/ David Cameron claimed in Parliament on the 13th March 2013 that there have been 1m new Private sector jobs created since the General Election. Can you please let me know the source for that claim please?

11/ Surely it is reasonable to expect that any Government in a civilised society would be aware of the combined and cumulative effects of its policies on a very vulnerable section of its electorate. Why do you feel it is ethical to pass through the lobbies when the authors of the policies on which you are voting have not taken the time to understand the effects of those policies on the most vulnerable in society? The DWP's response to the WOWpetition  achieving 10,000 signatures said as much!

Your Government is overseeing what I believe to be a deliberate policy to marginalise what is a large resource of very able but different people and are responsible for what I judge as a complete withdrawal of hope for disabled people. Rather than giving us equality of opportunity we are demonised by Government ministers and made to feel a burden. Do you agree that is wrong?

I look forward to discussing this with you on Friday at 5pm.

Yours sincerely,

Ian M Jones

Sent from my iPhone



The Lump Hammer Approach to the Work Capability Assessment

Explaining an invisible illness to someone isn't easy at the best of times. When you suffer from a mental health condition, it can be difficult and traumatic to translate the troublesome thoughts and feelings running through your head into words. People tend to be alarmed by behaviour and ideas that they can't relate to themselves and you soon learn that it's probably better to keep your personal horrors hidden from your friends and family and make up more acceptable excuses for yourself when you don't feel well. Mental health professionals generally know that people feel stigmatised and frightened to open up. That they're scared of speaking out because it can be confusing and upsetting and there are no simple solutions. They tread carefully at first on tip-toes around you. Little by little they build a professional relationship based upon the solid foundations of your trust. A good therapist offers a sensitive ear to your troubles and waits patiently until you feel stable, comfortable and ready to share your inner depths. They listen and put you at your ease....

...which is far from the reality of the work capability assessment. The face-to-face assessment has all the sensitivity of a blunt lump hammer bashed against your skull to knock the answers they demand right out of you with thumping great whacks. No moment is given to recover from your upset here my friends. Your time is their money.

The face-to-face assessment was scheduled to be done at my home because of the nature of my illness. It was a huge relief that they had accepted and believed my difficulties demanded it. My last assessment was just twelve months ago and despite having a long-term history of chronic anxiety conditions, more therapy than Ruby Wax (not possible) and a poor prognosis, following a fit to work decision and a battle, I was placed in the work related activity group. Thank the Holy Lord and mother nature herself that no one from the jobcentre has ever contacted me. I could not have coped if they had.

The Atos health care professional was not the person named on the letter. When he arrived my heart sank. It was the same man as last time. The same man who twisted and manipulated my answers and wrote a work of fiction about me on his report. I hadn't been expecting a fair or reasonable assessment however. At least this time I knew not to trust. I had been dreading it. Effectively two months had been wiped from my life with worry and stress. I couldn't think of anything else. The apprehension grabs you by the guts and twists them until you're curled up in a quivering foetal ball. I could barely function for fear of what was going to happen next. Suffice to say the night before sleep had eluded me. By the time he arrived in the morning I was ragged and a little bit delirious.

Ten whole minutes of rapid fire questions followed. Barely time to catch my breath, yet alone my composure, which crumbled when he asked me to describe a panic attack. Despite enduring possibly thousands of panic attacks, right there and then under this pressure my mind was a blank vacuum of emptiness. I just couldn't think and hot tears swelled in my eyes so I had to cover my face with my hands. My thoughts dried up, my throat constricted, my voice cracked and words would not come. He was perched on the end of the settee tapping his pen. I noticed him turn his wrist to look at his watch.

"Did I take medication?" I shook my head and told him, no. His scribbled with his pen and I hastily added that I didn't take medication because the side effects had been intolerable and in the past had made my condition significantly worse. I noticed that the pen didn't write this clarification down on paper.

"Did I ring the doctors myself?" I had to think for a moment, "sometimes" I said. I'm familiar with my GPs surgery and it's probably the one place on this earth that I'm not too afraid to ring. Had he asked if I rang the hairdressers, or the dentists, or the DWP, I would have said no, never, because I am too anxious.

"Do I go there by myself?" I do yes, because it's literally around the corner, takes less than a minute to reach by car and you can park right outside the door. "So you walk to the doctors yourself?" he enquired and started to write the answer down before I had started to speak. "No! I am taken there!" because I can't walk that far without panicking. Once again, his pen lay still in his hand.

Two sheets of A4 paper were completed, and with that he opened his briefcase, placed the forms inside and clipped it shut. He said that I didn't need to see him out, and with that, he was through the door and gone, leaving me huddled on the chair feeling stunned and bewildered, as if I'd just been violated in some way. It was over so quickly I didn't really know what to feel. Certainly I was relieved that it was done and dusted, but if that was a credible and fair assessment to reflect a fifteen year history of a crippling mental health condition, I am very worried. I have no idea if he's read my detailed forms and the assessment was a mere formality, or if he's made up his mind already to find me fit to work.

Once the dreaded (white) envelope of doom arrives, you have exactly four weeks from the date it was issued to complete and return the ESA50 forms contained inside. What these forms fail to mention is that for each question you complete, you will awarded a set amount of points from zero to fifteen. You need at least 15 to "pass". However which way you finally get to the stage where you're given the benefit you are legally entitled to, be that as a direct result of the assessment, by a reconsideration of a fit to work decision, or at an independent tribunal, it is extremely disconcerting to feel that you have succeeded in "passing the exam" because someone with no medical training acknowledged the severity of your illness. It really does feel as if your illness is on trial.

How Atos will interpret your answers is something of a mystery. The questions are vague and ambiguous and perhaps in the majority of cases, bear no relation to the real life limitations to work your condition poses. People who are mostly housebound and need someone to support them to go outside cannot score enough points on that particular activity to be awarded the benefit. People who are not aggressive or violent every day, but only some days, cannot score enough points to be awarded the benefit. Okay, so there is a clause which states that if work will cause you or others harm there is some discretion in the decision making process. The problem in reality, is proving to them that is the case. In order to try and understand what was actually being asked of me, it took me almost the whole month to complete the few answers I believe might possibly be relevant to my mental health condition. It is a miserable experience, and utterly demoralising and soul destroying to have to go over and over the very worst aspects of your ill health. By the end of the process you're emotionally battered and more unwell than when you started.

Mark Hoban, the minister for Work and Pensions would have you think the reason why at least 40% of fit to work decisions are overturned at appeal is because additional medical evidence was presented to back up the claims. I challenge the minister to obtain his medical history within this narrow time frame and see if he can do it without having to pay. The maximum your GP surgery can charge for copying your medical records is £50, which is precisely the sum that I was charged. I contacted the GP surgery the day I received the forms. I was told to put my request in writing. That letter was delivered to them within hours. It took six weeks to get hold of some of the documents, but they had missed off everything from 2005 to date. That afternoon, I confess, I cried.

I hope that the clerk at the DWP who makes the final decision does read the two inches thick paper documentation to support my claim. Frankly, I couldn't flip a coin one way or the other to tell you what their decision will be. The major problem with the work capability assessment is that the outcome is so completely uncertain. People keep telling me that they have their fingers crossed. Some have their toes crossed for me too. Isn't that the point after all? No one can second guess what the decision will be. It's a test based not on facts, or evidence. It's more a game of chance which gambles with your sanity and your desperate need for support and a subsistence income. I wait anxiously to learn if they pull my ticket out of their tombola machine. Wish me luck?

If anyone is feeling alone and worried about their own assessment please contact Jane on twitter @WOWpetitionchat

There is an excellent interactive guide to the complex work capability assessment written by a specialist benefits advisor at http://ilegal.org.uk/thread/7049/mlinteractive-guide-completion-esa-50

If you would like to share your own experience please contact us. We will be delighted to hear from you.

Above all, we demand that this degrading and unfair assessment process is stopped as soon as possible. Please give your support by signing and sharing the petition...


When WOW met the Campaign for Benefit Justice

I have thought long and hard about this. I can either say it exactly how it happened or make it interesting by shortening some of the sequences, leaving others out and telling a story that relays the facts rather than just gives the facts (Sounds like a bad advert for some computer software!!). I'm in story telling mode!!!

On Sunday of last week "a link" did the rounds among the WOWpetition Activists. (Activist makes me sound more heroic than fat middle aged man sitting at his computer sending Tweets, e-mails, Skyping and walking my dog (with housework and cooking thrown in!!)). Someone had come across details of a Campaign for Benefit Justice "rally" that was meeting at Birkbeck College in London on Saturday 9th March and there was a general call out for WOWers to go. There was also a steering committee event last Monday evening to help organise this event.

Us at WOW (!!) have always realised that in order to be successful we need to break out of the confines of Twitter, although it is a very comfortable environment. To me this seemed to be an opportunity to take WOW into the real world. Others are doing that already, including our sponsor and all round good egg Francesca Martinez, so I volunteered, contacted the organisers and set out for the steering committee meeting.

At this point, I want to restate that one of the overriding principles behind WOW was that it was to be a democratic inclusive process, to include disabled people, their families, carers, friends and anyone else that supported us. Got that? You sure? OK!

So I walked into the steering committee meeting introduced myself and sat back. I am not going to go through the other people there as this post isn't about the wonderful job they did. The meeting began and as they were talking about the organisation of the event which they had already done without me I didn't really contribute. I think I made some comment about what a good job had been done.

Poked my head above the parapet!

Having included myself in the discussion I was "fair game".

I was asked......

"So, have you managed to change the wording of the WOWpetition yet?"

(It wasn't this brutal or aggressive but I'm telling a story!!)

I replied......

"Hello, my name is Ian. What?!?!"

It transpired that the meeting generally felt that the WOWpetition was a little bit "closed" when it asked for the end of sanctions against disabled people.

"Wouldn't it have been easier to ask for an end to sanctions against all?"

I slipped straight back into exec at a meeting mode. I pointed out that we were unable to change the wording of the petition (we've already considered that - hands up all of you that have noticed the the wording of the petition doesn't include the word "WOWpetition"!!!) and that WOW as a movement is against sanctions against all benefit claimants and vulnerable people. I was not going to try to justify the wording - much too dangerous!!

Good answer I thought.

Although that wasn't exactly the answer I gave. KISS - Keep it simple stupid, are the rules by which I try to live. But my mouth sometimes gets ahead of my brain. I had to add...

"and of course we were working against the 1,000 character limit so had to be focused."

I sat back, happy, thought I'd deflected it.

The offending section was:

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.


Somebody at the meeting dared to say something.


'Hold on! If you "change sanctions for people on disability benefits" to "sanctions for people on benefits" that's fewer characters?'



Here goes....

"The WOWpetition was crowd-sourced amongst sick and disabled people and their stakeholders (thought I'd try some Consultant speak!!) and went through a democratic selection process and a vote. It was never our intention to be non inclusive, in fact we made every effort to be as inclusive as possible, and if we failed or excluded some other group that was not intended and an error of drafting."

Yes, that killed the discussion. Good old "stakeholders"!

The meeting continued and we organised meeting up on Saturday.

I reported back to my WOW colleagues and we had a lengthy exchange about what we could do.

Saturday came.

I got up, packed the car and set off into London. Got to the University of London campus. Suddenly I  realised the plan wasn't completely thought out!

Where to park?

I drove & drove & drove and came across a side road with "Parking regulations suspended" signs everywhere.


Apart from it being very narrow parking spaces, nearly full and our elite students and academics being unable to park between the lines.

Got into one space, but it was so tight I couldn't even wind the windows down! Then someone left so as quick as I could (didn't lose any wing mirrors) jumped into it. Success.

Went over to Birkbeck College and saw familiar faces. Found my desk (tucked away under the stairs!!) but as if by magic it moved to a prime location on the entrance to the meeting room. Put the stuff out on my desk, put some posters up, tried to connect my ipad to BT wifi.

Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit

We were underground. No signal. How could people sign the petition?

I read somewhere that technology is disabling us. Without SatNavs people can't find their way. That sort of thing.

Went to the shop. Bought an A4 pad, a ruler, some pens. Made a paper petition for people to sign.


The first part of the Benefit Justice Meet was in Birkbeck college. In order to get into the meeting they had to file past my desk. If they got too close they were told about WOW. If they wanted to go to the meeting after that they were encouraged to sign or I kept talking. The meeting started. My audience disappeared.

After about an hour and a bit the meeting finished and potential signees reappeared. They had to some past my desk to escape!! Some signed; some took our Cards; Some talked to me about who was WOW. I talked about how Welfare Reform wasn't fair and we'd had enough.Some promised to promote our message elsewhere.

Then they were gone. I packed up to move to the second part of the meeting, the workshops at ULU. However, by the time I got there they had started and there was a bigger prize.

Sitting there in ULU was the TUC rep and one of the organisers. I sat down. Made small talk. Then....

"so is there anything WOW can do to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of this movement?"

It turns out there is a Workfare protest coming up and they would like WOW to organise it for them. We did nothing to organise the rally last saturday so that seems fair to me. I will let you know what when I find out.

Remember, this version would differ slightly from a CCTV record of what happened but I trust you were all sitting comfortably.

From:- http://edwinmandella.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/when-wow-met-campaign-for-benefit.html


WOW Petition Hits 25,000 Signatures!

Thank you!

The WoW Petition has over 25,000 signatures!

We're over a quarter of the way to the 100,000 signatures needed to demand that the government completes a thorough impact assessement of all the cuts to benefits and services hitting sick and disabled people, and the end of the harmful and failing work capability assessment
With your support we can do this!


ESA SOS - The Starting Gun

ESA SOS - An important post from @suey2y author of Diary of a Benefit Scrounger.

In a few weeks, I'm going to arrange for some very significant stories to break in the very mainstream press about ESA.

I've been collecting them for about 6 months and if there's any justice left at all, they will kill ESA once and for all.

They will totally change your perception of ESA and WCAs

We need a Spartacus 2 and as you all know, I've been sick as a dog.

Today is stage one. If you're in, please leave your Name and user name on twitter or Facebook (Feel free to only provide the latter if you like to keep your anonymity a little) and Constituency

There will be a task most days, so please keep watching my blog. 

Today, I would like something very specific. What is the worst thing, for you about ESA/WCAs? I need you to simply leave a one line answer if possible, ie "1 Year Time Limit - It totally undermines any contributory principle"

The most popular of these "subjects" will make up every short section of the new report.

Share this post everywhere you can. This will be the start of our biggest fightback. EVERYONE will have to give this everything if it is to work. We need hundreds of responses to every request to make this a truly representative report from disabled people, by disabled people. The more join, the more powerful our voice and the more impact any final work will have.

What's more, by crowdsourcing our information and skills, believe me, we have 100 times the resources and ability of the DWP.

I have an awesome team in place - they produced #esaSOS in just 4 days. Hard though it will be, PLEASE, I'm still very weak and CAN'T read endless comments or pages and pages of Hansard or reports. Make this easy for me by keeping as close to the brief each day as you possibly can. I WILL cover everything, nothing will get missed. I'll ask the question you're itching to comment on, honest, but if we do it this way, I can delegate very much and empower you all to know exactly what we need.

Even a shadow of division will see us fail. This will need every group, every campaigner, every supporter, no matter how radical or moderate, how powerful or unknown, every journalist that has supported us, every politician who is fully signed up to our arguments.

If you have a prominent welfare/disability/political voice, website or other outlet, please cross post this from me. 

So today, in the comment thread below please leave :

Name and social media name/s (or just the latter if more comfortable)
The WORST thing for you about ESA/WCAs in one line. 

****ESA is the most terrible failure of any developed nation for a very long time. The reasons are numerous and utterly undeniable. The government has failed to implement Harrington with any commitment and is actively increasing the rate at which vulnerable people face a failing and unfair test. We have engaged with a democratic process that has failed us at every stage. We have no choice left but to stop this ourselves. Over 100,000 people now face some kind of ESA assessment every MONTH. We can't afford to wait. ****

Enough is Enough. 

From today, please use the hashtag #ESAendgame in all your tweets. We must build awareness and create an army or support and dissemination. 

"Alone we Whisper, Together we Shout"

Leave your comments at Diary of a Benefit Scrounger

Please sign the petition http://wowpetition.com/